Friday, March 5, 2010

Genealogy in Life and Death

There is a side to genealogy that may touch all of us, yet it is nothing that thrills us. It is nothing like making that crack through a brick wall. It is a side that touches us on a personal level and gives us pause to continue. It is that moment when genealogy is no longer a quest or result. It is that entry after the name that signifies a concrete truth and this truth that when we are first met with it, brings a denial that is unwilling to make that entry for fear that truth will win out. That entry is d.

My twin sister passed away this past November and it is a pain like none other I have ever known. I will not elaborate except to say that she was the absolute light in my life and that her early and sudden loss took my heart to a place I wish on no one.

As I am a genealogist and the appointed historian for our family it is something that I must do, but that d. after her name strikes a cord so deep that it brings a pain to my bones. It must be done as it is the final salute to a life well loved.

In our pursuit of lineage we enter data for our clients on a daily basis. We see the dates and we calculate forwards and backwards our next move. We anticipate large quantity of death in years of plague or war and envision the sadness of the parents. We see the events of birth and marriage in our minds eye and imagine being their guest at the festivities. We are transported to a day and location that very few professions allow and we believe that in visualizing these lives who are long past that we bring honor to those we investigate.

It is true that what we do is noble. It is true that what we do makes an absolute difference, but for every entry of that d. there was one left behind that deeply mourned their loss and in order to be noble and to make that difference it is imperative for me to include them in my visualization. How else will I hear their voices?

There may be separate trains of thought concerning method. There may be those that believe that there’s no place for sentiment in our work and that it muddies the waters. I am not of this mindset – right or wrong. For me it’s involuntary. I can’t think of the ancestors I seek in a purely statistical manner. Of course, I must and do follow proper methodology, yet I need also to see and feel the surroundings of those I seek in order to strategize where next I should go. Their occupations, location of marriage, religion, obituary, godparents and witnesses all speak to me. Every deed, census, divorce decree and village history speak volumes to me. The voices help clarify my quest and they bring joy to the process.

I will enter the d. after my sisters name and I’ll hope that a future generation will visualize that entry as one made with love; as one made with the expressed wish that whoever reads it will know that those she left behind had honored her in life and in death. And if there is something not known that they will hear her voice and follow her clues.

Adding that d. may sadden us, yet it will also bring a renewed pride in a profession that allows us to validate and give reverence far beyond a mere statistic. We can do this every day for every name we search and for every d. we enter. We can see them clearly and appreciate that we have been allowed passage to a place in time where they loved, laughed and held the hands of those they cared for. This gift we have been given deserves every respectful act in return. It deserves our pursuit of the truest sense of who they were.

To my sister whom I have loved then and always, it has pained me to enter your name, but I have done so that you will never be forgotten and that you will continue to have a place with purpose.